We at Playboy think there is a depressing tendency to confuse seriousness with earnestness and dullness. We believe in the Western tradition of satire and polemic (and it is our feeling that some of the mass media could do with a little sharpening of their senses of humor), and we aren't above poking fun at ourselves once in a while either.
Some seem to feel that a happy, even frisky and romantic attitude toward life, and a savoring of its material pleasures, preclude seriousness, work, sensibility, a viable aesthetic. In our book (literally and in the slang sense) this position is untenable. It belongs with such other evidences of semantic dysfunction as the unreasoning suspicion that medicine can't be good for you if it doesn't taste bad; that robust profanity bespeaks a limited vocabulary (rather than one equipped with condiments as well as nutrients); that dullness is the ordained handmaiden of seriousness; that the well-dressed man is an empty-headed fop, perforce, and that conversely, the chap who can't distinguish a fine Niersteiner from a plebian bottle of hock is probably possessed of more intellect of character than the man who can.
A Matter of Sex
At the heart of most of the criticism of Playboy's contents, we find that ol' devil sex. We'll consider the fuller implications of this when we discuss the concept, but we must confess at the outset that we do not consider sex either sacred or profane. And as a normal, and not uninteresting, aspect of the urban scene, we think it perfectly permissible to treat the subject either seriously or with satire and good humor, as suits the particular situation.
For some, it is the pictures that offend—the full-color, full-bosomed Playmates and their photographic sisters, who apparently show off too much bare skin to please a part of the public. That another sizable portion of the citizenry, numbering in the several million, is obviously pleased as punch by this display of photogenic pulchritude is—for the moment—besides the point. We'd like to make our case on merits other than mathematical ones.
It was disconcerting when we first discovered that many of those who consider nudity and obscenity nearly synonymous often drag God's name into the act—this struck us, and strikes us still, as a particularly blatant bit of blasphemy. The logic that permits a person to call down God's wrath on anyone for displaying a bit of God's own handiwork does, we must admit, escape us. If the human body—far and away the most remarkable, the most complicated, the most perfect and the most beautiful creation on this earth—can become objectionable, obscene or abhorrent, when purposely posed and photographed to capture that remarkable perfection and beauty, then the world is a far more cockeyed place than we are willing to admit. That there may be some people in this world with rather cockeyed ideas on subjects of this sort—well, that's something else again.
And, yes, it's possible for an entire society—or a goodly portion of it—to get cockeyed on a particular subject, for a while at least. Just how the U.S. developed its own cockeyed Puritanical view of sex—the shackles of which it is only now managing to throw off—we'll go into some detail a little further on. But it is worth noting here that a remarkable schism exists between the two present generations, as regards sex and several other quite vital subjects, and the gap—in attitude and viewpoint—between the younger and the older generations of our time is far greater that the customary 20 years. This is one of the little recognized, but most significant reasons for a number of well-established magazines finding themselves in serious difficulties over the last decade. With most key editorial decisions still in the hands of older staff members, the publications have become uneasily aware that they are somehow losing editorial contact with an increasing number of their readers (or more specifically, their potential readers, as the oldsters die off and too few young ones are drawn in to take their place), without really understanding why or what to do about it. Similarly, a major part of Playboy's spectacular success is directly attributable to our being a part of the new generation, understanding it, and publishing a magazine with an editorial point of view that our own generation can relate to. We'll try to trace the causes of this remarkable gap in the two present generations, and just what the differences may mean to all of us, a bit later, in discussing Playboy's concept. The marked disagreement in the comment on Playboy, in the pieces quoted at the beginning of this editorial (and most of them from well-qualified, literate sources), is more easily understandable when we realize what a marked disagreement exists between the two present generations on a wide variety of subjects.
A portion of a generally quite friendly article on Playboy that appeared in Newsweek in 1960 offers a good example of the distinct lack of understanding that an older-generation editor brings to the task of explaining our editorial concept and the reasons for our success: "In efforts to maintain Playboy's sophisticated patina, Hefner and Associate Publisher A.C. Spectorsky (author of The Exurbanites) have given the magazine a split personality. By paying top rates to top authors ($3000 for a lead story), they have bestowed on it a double-dome quality. On the other hand its daring nudes ('Playmate of the Month') have catered to the peep-show tastes." The anonymous Newsweek writer (or his editor) projects the schizophrenic attitude of his own generation (the positive-negative ambivalence regarding sex) onto the more nearly normal new generation and onto Playboy (edited to express the ideas and ideals of the new generation). For Playboy's editor, a good men's magazine should include both fine fiction and pictures of beautiful girls with "plunging necklines or no necklines at all" (to lift another phrase from the Newsweek article), because most normal men will enjoy both, and both fit into the concept of a sophisticated urban men's magazine. For Newsweek's editor, however, a good men's magazine should include fine fiction, but no pretty girls, or at least no pretty girls without clothes on—no matter how much the magazine's readership might appreciate them—because Newsweek's editor is projecting the uneasy and quite hypocritical and unhealthy attitude, held by much of our society for, lo, these many years, that sex is best hidden away somewhere, and the less said about it the better. Of course, we all enjoy it (sexual activity in all of its infinite varieties, was just as popular a generation ago as it is today—actions haven't changed that much, only the publicly expressed attitudes toward them have), but it's a rather distasteful business at best, appealing to the weaker, baser, animalistic side of man (which includes, as we understand it, any need or function of the body and is diametrically opposed to the virtuous, better side: the intellectual and the spiritual).
This nonsense about the body of man being evil, while the mind and spirit are good, seems quite preposterous to most of us today. After all, the same Creator was responsible for all three and we confess we're not willing to believe that He goofed when He got around to the body of man (and certainly not when He got to the body of woman). Body, mind and spirit all have a unique way of complementing one another, if we let them, and if excesses of the body are negative, it is the excesses that are improper rather than the body, as excesses of the mind and spirit would also be.
The great majority will agree with what we've just stated, and yet the almost subconscious, guilty feeling persists that there is something evil in the flesh of man—a carryover from a Puritanism of our forefathers (that included such delights as the torturing of those who didn't abide by the strict ethical and moral code of the community and the occasional burning of witches) which we have rejected intellectually, but which still motivates us on subtler, emotional levels. Thus a men's magazine is appealing to "peep-show tastes" when it includes in its contents the photographs of sparsely clad women—a conclusion the Newsweek writer could almost certainly never justify intellectually, but a conclusion that he managed to put to paper just the same.
Last year we had one of the editors of another national newsmagazine visiting us and we were showing him the Playboy Mansion. We took him down into the underwater bar beside the pool (he declined politely our invitation to slide down the fireman's pole and used the stairs instead) and we fixed him a drink. The light in the underwater bar is quite low and across one wall we have illuminated color transparencies of some of Playboy's most popular Playmates—very similar to the wall decoration in the Playmate Bar of the Playboy Clubs. Now it should be explained that this editor is not appreciably older than we are—in years. But in outlook, at least a generation separates us. He is what you could safely call a stuffed shirt. It became immediately clear that the Playmate pictures embarrassed and yet intrigued him. He studied them, shaking his head slowly from side to side.